Jordany Robleto Baltazar

I was a young 7th grader when I saw my mom on a hospital bed. She was beaten by the endless twelve-hour shifts that she worked at multiple jobs. She was so overworked and underfed that she struggled to even smile as I walked in. She had managed to bring seven of my eight siblings to the United States from Guatemala and now worked so hard that I would wake up at six in the morning, go to bed at ten at night, and not see her at all. When I asked her, “Why do you work so much?” She always answered, “Alguien tiene que pagar la renta.” Someone has to pay the rent.

Growing up, every time I heard the word “family,” I became angry. I constantly thought, “Why don’t I get to spend time with you, Mami?” I felt like an orphan whose only visitor came when he was asleep. I skipped classes, disobeyed teachers, and even fought a security guard once, just to get my mom called into school. I acted out to have an opportunity to see my mom, never realizing that all the hours she wasted coming to school cost us rice for a week, or delayed the purchase of “more comfortable shoes” for herself.

How would I have acted then, knowing everything I do now?

As she lay on the hospital bed, she said one small phrase that made me understand what she had been working for: “Don't end up like me.” Mami never went out with friends to have a good time. She never let her back pain, arthritis, or any medical issue bring her down. Despite leaving her country after a deadly 36-year civil war, she never spread negativity and always reminded me to think on the bright side. She sacrificed time with her children in hopes that they would get an education, and one day understand why she was never there in the first place. She sacrificed too much.

After realizing what my mom had sacrificed, I was on my way home from school as I looked at my neighborhood through the M10 bus window, only to see trash and violence. I felt a sense of frustration. When I thought about my school, I pictured more of the same. I thought about my friends, those who are with us and those who fell victim to the system that never meant for them to succeed. It was at this moment that I decided I had to turn my life around. I no longer wanted to be in a dangerous neighborhood with bad friends and influences. But most importantly, I wanted to lift one less worry from my mom's shoulders.

I decided that my first priority should be to learn English. I forced myself to only speak English with my family and brushed off rude comments about my accent. I stopped watching TV in Spanish; Curious George became my first English-speaking friend. I borrowed English picture books from the library everyday, because I couldn’t understand them otherwise. After two years, my family had to move again due to financial issues. I switched from a bilingual school in Washington heights, to an English-only public school in Harlem, and realized that I had to work even harder. It was hard, annoying, mentally frustrating, and often physically battering, but that's never stopped my mom, and I wasn't going to let it stop me.

The following school weeks, I made sure to focus in class. My teachers looked at me sideways and so did my friends. I lost most of my friends and my social status, but for once, I didn't care. Although many teachers did not help me regain the knowledge I lost in two years, my Harlem lacrosse coaches did. And soon after my mom got out of the hospital, I became eligible to play lacrosse, and it changed my life. I knew I was not the strongest, fastest, or biggest, but nothing was getting between me and my goalsliteral and figurative. I practiced longer, watched twice as much film, and converted my small little room into a weight room. Lacrosse gave me the opportunity to go to boarding school. Now, it stands to be a means by which I attain a college education, something I, an immigrant kid from Harlem, never thought possible.

But lacrosse isn’t the reason I’m out of the hood. It isn’t the reason I’m out of Harlem. It isn’t the reason I’ve been able to get a better education. It isn’t the reason I’m on the path to college. My mom is the reason.

I started playing lacrosse at the same time I began understanding all the sacrifices she had made for me, her work ethic, her selflessness, and her perseverance. Once I began to understand my mom, I had no choice but to put the qualities she demonstrated and instilled in me into lacrosse and everything I do. My mom is my inspiration.

Mami, I know it's been hard, but thank you for being the best mother anyone could ever have. Thank you for always being there when I cried because I hated English. Thank you for pushing me to do my homework, and laying down the law when I didn't. Thank you for waking up at four in the morning to walk me to the school so I could make the bus to go to lacrosse camps. Thanks for all the jokes and all the hugs. But most importantly, thank you for teaching me that despite all circumstances, you should always dance, always laugh, and always smile.

My dream is to fix our home back in Guatemala and have every inch personalized for my mom. She is the embodiment of hustle and hard work, and she has provided me with everything that I need. She said, “Don’t end up like me,” but I’m now realizing that we are more alike than different. She had a bigger picture in mind. I have dreams too.

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